Based on: John 15:1-8
On Easter four weeks ago the front of our sanctuary was full of flowers. Think about the beautiful symbolism. On Easter we celebrate Christ taking back his life and the life he gives us. It makes sense, doesn’t it, to fill the front of our sanctuary with living things. When we decorate the front of the church with flowers, you know that sometimes we use potted plants and sometimes we have flowers that have been cut from the plant and then arranged with other flowers. Both are wonderful and both are given as an offering to our Savior. Now, let me use those flowers as part of an illustration. You know better than I do that once you cut part of the plant off from the rest of the plant, that part is going to die. The potted plants are still whole and since the rest of the plant is still connected to the roots, they will continue to live as long as they are taken care of. They are still connected to the roots that provided the nourishment they needed to live.
As Christians we are just like those flowers. We need to be connected to the rest of the plant to survive. And we are – we are connected to the vine. We are connected to the vine as a branch and we are connected to the vine to bear fruit.
Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches.” Jesus calls us branches and as branches we are connected to the true vine, Jesus Christ. As the true vine, he does what a vine should do and gives us what we need to stay alive and bear fruit. We need to be connected to this vine. We need to receive the spiritual sap that runs from him, the vine, to us, the branches and brings the necessary nutrients.
In more practical terms, how does this nourishment get from him to us? All of our spiritual food comes to us as the Holy Spirit works through God’s Word and through baptism and the Lord’s Supper. These things are the spiritual sap that runs from the vine to us, the branches. Through baptism we were brought to faith and given spiritual life as a branch connected to this vine. As we hear, read and study God’s Word we are reminded over and over again that we are sinful human beings deserving eternal death, but Jesus lived, died, and lived again to give us eternal life in heaven. In the Lord’s Supper we receive the Lord’s body and blood, the very payment for our sins – assurance of our salvation. God’s Word, baptism and the Lord’s Supper are the nourishment we need to become spiritually strong and healthy branches.
But what do I often do instead? I avoid God’s Word, I go to the Lord’s Supper not thinking about it’s significance, I forget about my baptism and I run to other so-called vines and want to be attached to them. Instead of Christ, I want to be connected to and nourished by the vine called TV, or the vine of my material possessions, or the vine of science that says there is no God, or the vine called postmodernism that claims everyone can have their own interpretation of the Bible. As a branch I try to connect myself to these things that are not really vines. Instead of providing nourishment they spread poison and disease throughout the branches – an herbicide for the soul.
If we continue to ignore the true vine and are not fed by God’s word and the sacraments but instead are fed by other “vines” then we will no longer be a living branch but a dead one, separated from the true vine. Listen to how Jesus describes this, “If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.” Jesus goes into more detail than seems necessary. He could just say, “He is a dead branch,” but no, Jesus doesn’t want us to miss this point. He wants us to realize the consequences of not being connected to him, the life giving vine.
This is not a harsh threat, but loving warning. Jesus does not want this to happen to any of us. Five times in these eight verses Jesus says “remain in me" – urging us again and again to stay connected to him.
His command to “remain in me” is urgent and critical, yet you and I have no power or desire to obey this command. It was on Good Friday that Christ gave us the power and desire to carry out this command. Because Jesus died on the cross and covered up every sinful thought, word or deed you and I have ever committed, we want to “remain in him.” By receiving the blessings of his death for us through God’s Word, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper, we are given the strength to remain in him. It is our connection to the vine – God’s Word and the Sacraments – that enable us to “remain in the vine.”
Now, as a branch connected to and receiving eternal life through this vine, we don’t want to be just a dry stick connected to this life-giving vine. We want to bear fruit. We do things that are pleasing to God. It is a natural reaction to the nourishment we receive from the vine. It is our purpose as branches. We are connected to the vine to bear fruit.
Notice that the fruit does not come first or by itself. Jesus said, “If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” We cannot do anything that pleases God apart from Christ. Only by being connected to the vine and nourished by it can we bear fruit.
What is this fruit that we bear as Christians? It is anything done out of faith in Christ. If we give money to church because we believe Jesus died for our sins, then God is pleased. If we give money to church because we will look good when someone sees us put the envelope and the collection plate then God is not pleased and that is not fruit.
Where there is no trust that Jesus Christ died to take away sin, there is no fruit. No matter what the unbeliever does, even if he were to give a million dollars to the church, it would not be “fruit.” God would not be pleased. Fruit only comes as a result of being connected to the vine; it only comes as a result of faith in Jesus Christ.
For the believer, however, fruit can be something as seemingly small as singing a hymn to yourself or resisting the temptation to tell one of those little lies. No one may ever find out about this fruit, but God is immensely pleased.
Of course, our Heavenly Father is pleased by all the fruit we produce, but he is constantly pruning us, the branches, so that we will produce even more fruit – so even more of our lives will be pleasing to him. He is the perfect gardener and knows just where to cut to make us stronger branches that produce more fruit.
When the Heavenly Father prunes he is getting rid of the things in our lives that get in the way of our connection to the vine. This pruning is usually not a pleasant thing. It cuts and causes pain. Perhaps because of a sickness we look to our Savior and open our Bibles a little more. It could also be that a sharp word from someone helps us see our sin and we go to the vine to receive forgiveness. It can happen a number of ways but through this pruning our connection to the vine is stronger, and we produce a greater harvest of fruit for our Savior.
This fruit we produce serves to glorify our God. Think of a gardener who takes care of a plant and keeps it healthy. When it produces beautiful flowers or mouthwatering fruit, who gets the praise? The gardener does. The same is true with us. When we produce fruit it is to the gardener’s credit and for his glory because it shows that the gardener has made us disciples of his one and only Son, Jesus Christ.
All Easter flowers, no matter how well they are cared for, will eventually die, but we are connected to the vine that has died and was raised back to life for our salvation. Now he will never die and as a branch connected to the true vine we too will live forever.